For more than a little while, probably since the day the design of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial on the Mall was announced, I have tried to find a word to describe what it is supposed to mean to a person who sees it. Although I have yet to see the monument in person, a photograph finally gave me the word.
It was an image of what a visitor to the memorial will see, looking up at that proud, humble and dignified person who came to Washington to proclaim and profess his dream. Looking up, at those crossed arms and that steady gaze, what this monument speaks and proclaims is: resolve.
Resolve. It is a noun and a verb. And it is one of those words that brings fire to both of its uses.
The crossed arms and fixed gaze tell the visitor of this man’s resolve. He had a dream and a vision that would define his life. That is the noun. And the separation of his image from the rest of the wall is the verb: the declaration of his resolve to do what what he had to — garbage strikes, sit-ins and protest marches, including the 1963 March on Washington — to get the job done.
I will go and pay my respects to this extraordinary man who died while trying to change America. I cried then, and I am sure I will cry now. But I will also feel better.
Randolph Arndt, Clarksville
The much-anticipated Martin Luther King Jr. memorial is a monumental disappointment. Not so distant from the stunning achievement of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, it represents an inconceivable failure of imagination and is painfully out of harmony with its surroundings. It neither invokes King’s dream nor speaks to the trials of the civil rights movement. This so-called Mountain of Despair is little more than a pile of rock that reminds one mostly of the woeful banality of Soviet-era architecture — an unacceptable absurdity for a memorial depicting an American hero.
Barry D. Amis, Al exandria
I went down to see the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. It’s simply awesome. I suggest you first see it at night. This has to be one of the greatest tributes to an African American — ever. Who wants to be a president? I would rather be a Stone King.
What makes the monument work is the surrounding grounds and the walls with King’s quotes. Last night, I felt I was in Jerusalem at the Wailing Wall. People were interacting with the site: posing along the inscription walls, taking pictures of the Stone King, taking pictures with the Stone King. This is going to be a destination for all people, but especially for black people. Get the bus tours ready.
It was like a family reunion. I walked around bumping into people I knew. I thought: This is why the cellphone camera was created. In front of the monument, people stretched out their hands in a moment of togetherness. Click. Click. Oh, and I like how King looks out across the water of the Tidal Basin. It’s almost biblical.
Now if we can just remember what this very tall King stood for. Somewhere in the night air, I thought I heard Mahalia Jackson saying: “Tell them about the dream, Martin. Tell them about the dream.”
E. Ethelbert Miller,
The writer is director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University .
It is a shame that the newly completed national memorial to the American apostle of nonviolence, Martin Luther King Jr., bears no inscriptions directly referring to nonviolence. Given the plethora of memorials devoted to killing and war on the Mall, it is a travesty that the memorial has missed his life’s message of resolving conflicts and fighting for justice through nonviolent means.
Michael Beer, Washington
The writer is director of Nonviolence International.
I visited the King memorial fearng the worst. But I came away with some positive though mixed reactions. Above all, the memorial is not out of scale for the Mall, and in any case its site and surrounding trees give it enough privacy or distance to preclude visual dissonance with other monuments. The siting and placement of the monument struck me as brilliant in an aesthetic and symbolic sense, in particular its dialogue across the Tidal Basin with the Jefferson Memorial.
That said, the three rock “mountains” that form its core remind me of Disneyland mini-Matterhorns. They seem a bit odd and, I fear, even comical because of that association, as well as inconsistent with the mostly horizontal lines of the Mall. I hope we can learn to love them. The statue of King is sensitive enough not to be the “Socialist realist” monolith we had feared. Post Metro columnist Courtland Milloy was spot on in describing King’s gaze as pensive and professorial, but with a hint of peevishness or disappointment. I agree with Milloy that a more serene expression suggesting a sense of moral triumph in his life would have been better. Still, the expression is not only dignified, but ambiguous and thus subject to various interpretations. Isn’t that sometimes a virtue in sculpture and the other arts?
Marc E . Nicholson , Washington